China’s president is to visit Russia next week in an apparent show of support for Vladimir Putin, the Chinese foreign ministry has said.
The Kremlin also announced the visit, scheduled for 20-22 March, saying it would take place “at the invitation of Vladimir Putin”.
Xi Jinping and Putin would be discussing issues of further development of comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction between Russia and China, as well as exchanging views “in the context of deepening Russian-Chinese cooperation in the international arena”, the Kremlin added.
The two leaders will also sign “important” bilateral documents.
The visit will be Xi’s first foreign trip since securing a third term as China’s president at the annual parliamentary session on 10 March. It will also be the first time Xi has visited Putin, the man who he has previously described as his “best friend”, since Russia invaded Ukraine last year.
China and Russia’s “no limits” friendship has been tested by Russia’s war in Ukraine. The invasion seemed to take China by surprise and since then Xi has tried to play the role of mediator while supporting Putin in international forums. China has blocked G20 statements condemning the war and abstained from UN votes on the same matter.
Beijing has vigorously denied US claims it is considering sending lethal arms to Russia. Last month Xi published a 12-point “position paper” on the crisis, which was widely dismissed as anodyne. It implicitly blamed Nato for provoking the conflict. Both China and Russia oppose western-led military blocs.
Xi is also reported to be planning a phone call next week with Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukraine’s president, although this has not been confirmed.
On Thursday, China’s foreign minister, Qin Gang, spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, saying China hoped “Ukraine and Russia will retain hope for dialogue and negotiation and not close the door to a political solution, no matter how difficult and challenging it may be”, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement.
Since the start of the invasion trade between Russia and China has increased, and China is the biggest importer of Russian oil.
But Beijing is also trying to maintain its trade relationships with Europe, especially as it seeks to recover economically from three years of its zero-Covid policy. That means Xi is treading a fine line between supporting his best friend and protecting his own interests.
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